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Wednesday, May 08, 2024

Mystery Solved: ‘Clue’ Kills It at the Hippodrome

I confess not being a player of the old Hasbro board game Clue as a kid. I was more of a Monopoly kind of guy, whose experience was invaluable in helping me buy up beachfront property in Atlantic City and to get out of jail free so many times (j/k). However, you did not have to play Clue to enjoy the laugh-a-minute Clue: A New Comedy murder mystery as it is appearing at Baltimore’s Hippodrome Theatre as part of a national tour.

Written by Sandy Rustin based on the screenplay by Jonathan Lynn with additional material by Hunter Foster and Eric Price, Clue: A New Comedy is inspired by the classic board game and the 1985 cult film with the same title. 

Veteran director Casey Hushion helms this rapid-fire, tight, well-paced slapstick comedy in a 75 minute window with an abundance of physical humor and quick sarcastic rejoinders. A talented ensemble cast executes the madcap zaniness with aplomb.

A gothic deserted New England mansion—Boddy Manor—is the scene of a dinner party on this dark and stormy night in 1954. (Come to think of it, when is a night not dark?)  The six mysterious invited guests are given aliases—Colonel Mustard, Mrs. White, Mr. Green, Mrs. Peacock, Professor Plum, and Miss Scarlet. They all have their own individual skeletons to hide but the one thing they have in common is that they are being blackmailed by the host.

In keeping with the board game, each guest is handed a weapon: a revolver, a rope, a lead pipe, a wrench, a candlestick and a dagger. Soon the host is murdered, then a visitor to the mansion is killed and is followed by others.

"...an abundance of physical humor and quick sarcastic rejoinders."

Bodies are turning up at Boddy Manor and given the secrets the guests hold and the fear of exposure by the blackmailer, the motives are ever-present with each guest and the butler suspecting another amid the mayhem. And some of this fear can be traced to McCarthyism that was frightening during the time, fostering even more paranoia about their lives.

Because Clue is a whodunit with dizzying twists and turns, I will not divulge the solution to the madness since every performance contains the same conclusion. So, no spoilers here.

The ensemble cast of Clue consists of in alphabetical order: Mariah Burks as the Cook, John Treacy Egan as Colonel Mustard, Michelle Elaine as Miss Scarlet, Joanna Glushak as Mrs. Peacock, Tari Kelly as Mrs. White, Mark Price as Wadsworth, John Shartzer as Mr. Green, Jonathan Spivey as Professor Plum, Alex Syiek as Mr. Boddy, Teddy Trice as the Cop, and Elisabeth Yancey as Yvette

All of these actors possess strong comedic timing and solid physical humor. As Mr. Green, John Shartzer particularly stands out with his physical comedy and antics. Other standouts include Michelle Elaine as Miss Scarlet and Mark Price as Wadsworth.

The cast has their individual moments to shine using their accents, acting-comedic skills and body language, but they also jell in perfect harmony with one another. From my standpoint, the entire cast excels in this work.

Another star is the accomplished scenic designer, Lee Savage. The Boddy Manor is elegant, sophisticated and detailed. The main room with its high ceilings, dark wood-paneled walls and two large chandeliers provide a perfect contrast to the zaniness unfolding on stage. Other rooms, such as the billiards room, the library, the kitchen, etc. open up at the sides flawlessly via turntables making for smooth transitions. Hushion’s direction is precise.

Also, lighting designer Ryan O’Gara does an excellent job employing lighting effects to accent the numerous dramatic moments and punch lines and illuminating the never-ending thunderstorm that night.

Jen Caprio’s costume design is effective in taking us back to the 50’s with style.

What music exists it serves as background similar to what you would hear in a thirties movie. As the main cast shuffles in well-choreographed movements from room to room as a group in search of clues, they do so comically to the background music.

Clue is a darkly funny, sometimes silly, high-energy, well-directed and performed play with most lines landing on the target. But these lines do come quickly so be prepared for that; it could seem like a whirlwind.  

This is a unique experience, and why would anyone want to miss this fine body of work? I don’t have a clue.

Running time. One hour and 15 minutes with no intermission.

Clue: A New Comedy runs through May 12 the Hippodrome Theatre at the France-Merrick Performing Arts Center, 12 N. Eutaw St, Baltimore, MD 21201.  For tickets, call Ticketmaster at 800-982-ARTS or visit ticketmaster.com or BaltimoreHippodrome.com.

Photos by Evan Zimmerman

The actual Clue board
courtesy of Wikipedia

Saturday, March 23, 2024

Enchantment Galore in ‘Beauty and the Beast’ at Toby’s


Rachel Cahooon as Belle and Justin Calhoun as the Beast
It’s great that Toby’s Dinner Theatre has brought back Disney’s Beauty and the Beast at a time when we can all use a heartwarming fairy tale to relieve some stress. It’s also notable that Toby’s maintains a cache of veteran actors that can enchant us again.

If memory serves me, several performers—Jeffrey Shankle, David James, Lynn Sharp-Spears, Robert Biederman 125 as well as most of the technical crew—reprise their roles from Toby’s 2017 production. A lot has happened since that time. For example, we never heard of the word “covid.” But miraculously, these actors still remember their lines!

Yes, there are new cast members that add freshness and energy to the 2024 version of this classic musical. However, a theatrical star has emerged in the person of Rachel Cahoon who delivers a Broadway-worthy performance in the role of Belle (the beauty part of the title). There will be more about her later in the review.

Directed and choreographed by Helen Hayes Award winner Mark Minnick, who also helmed the 2017 iteration, the production clearly reflects his meticulous attention to details as well as his keen awareness of the in-the-round stage that is a hallmark of Toby’s.  It is an enchanting spectacle of superb music performed by a talented company demonstrating strong vocals and dazzling, high tempo dancing.

"...a theatrical star has emerged in the person of Rachel Cahoon who delivers a Broadway-worthy performance in the role of Belle."

Combine that with brilliant, extravagant period costumes designed by Janine Sunday; the imaginative set by David A. Hopkins, that add set pieces, props and dropdown fabric denoting the woods; Lynn Joslin’s effective lighting design; and the precise staging, Beauty and the Beast is far more beauty than beast.

Countless costume pieces are employed including colorful 18th century gowns, dresses with hoopskirts, as well as attire for wolves and the beast himself.  Prosthetics and other devices are used to outfit the enchanted objects—clock, tea pot, candelabra, etc.  There are great challenges in designing such costumes, but Ms. Sunday is clearly up to the task, which fortifies the aesthetics of the show.

The atmosphere representing the interior of a castle is amplified by Mr. Hopkins use of simulated oil paintings of previous kings on the walls around the theater and well-placed hanging lamps above and around the stage. Ms. Joslin makes good use of her vast lighting design experience as well as the appropriate use of fog effects to take us back to a time when princes inhabit castles while fierce wolves roam the woods nearby.

The musical, which opened on Broadway in 1994, was based on Oscar-nominated Disney’s 1991 animated feature film with the same name. It became the tenth longest ever running musical on Broadway.

Patrick Gover as Gaston

Beauty and the Beast featured the Oscar-winning score with music by Alan Menken and lyrics by Howard Ashman, with additional songs composed by Alan Menken and lyrics by Tim Rice. The book was written by Linda Woolverton.

Show-stopping production numbers that highlight the singing and dancing talents of the ensemble are audience pleasers to be sure.  Menken’s rich score is ably presented by Ross Scott Rawlings and his six-piece orchestra (Nathan Scavilla conducts on alternate performances).  Entertaining as that is, the fairy tale itself sweeps you away on an emotional and romantic journey.  

The story centers on a spoiled prince (Justin Calhoun) who had been transformed by an enchantress (Alexis Krey-Bedore) into a boorish, hot-tempered, unsightly creature because of an act of unkindness. That horrendous condition can only end, and the prince could return to his human form, if he can find love before petals fall off from an eternal rose given by the enchantress.  

The mutual love would come from a beautiful book-loving woman Belle (played by the aforementioned Rachel Cahoon) from a provincial town who enters the castle in search of her father Maurice (Robert Biederman) who had previously stumbled into said castle having lost his way. The story is tender and endearing, and the relationship between Belle and the Beast has the audience rooting hard for both. 

Also pushing hard for the couple to fall in love are various servants in the prince’s castle who were converted into enchanted household objects when the spell was cast on the prince.  They, too, have a stake in the spell being removed so they can return to being humans.

Simultaneously, the town’s egomaniacal, bicep-flexing, bully, Gaston (Patrick Gover), rejected by Belle to be his wife, strives to make her change her mind.

As Belle, lovely Ms. Cahoon, making her Toby’s debut in stunning fashion, shines throughout.  Considered “weird” by the townsfolk because of her passion for books, Belle is strong-minded, and her eventual attraction to the Beast that requires his becoming more gentlemanly for starters is tearful in its sweetness.    Ms. Cahoon displays her exquisite soprano voice in such the ballads “Belle,” “Home” and “A Change in Me.”

Not only are her vocals stellar, Ms. Cahoon brandishes her polished acting skills. Regardless of whom she interacts with, there is great chemistry. Whether it is with Mr. Biederman, Mr. Gover or Mr. Calhoun, those scenes hit the mark largely because of the chemistry displayed between the actors.

For his part, Mr. Calhoun as the Prince/Beast is also excellent.  He is called upon to be mean, gruff and demanding. Yet, he competently softens his demeanor as his love for Belle grows, demonstrating his acting gifts.  Mr. Calhoun’s pleasant baritone is evident in the emotional “How Long Must This Go On?” and the tender, beautifully delivered “If I Can’t Love Her.”

Patrick Gover romps through his role as the superior, perfect-looking God’s gift to women, Gaston.  His character, though an antagonist, provides comic relief early on because of his over-the-top self-centeredness and swagger with the amusing help from Lefou, Gaston’s goofy, ever-fawning sycophant, played with flair by Jeffrey Shankle. But his character darkens towards the end as he sets out to destroy the Beast. Mr. Gover showcases his commanding baritone in “Me,” “Gaston” and “The Mob Song”.

Rachel Cahoon, Adam Grabau and enchanted objects in "Be Our Guest"

As mentioned earlier, because of the spell, the Prince’s-then Beast’s staff had been turned into enchanted objects. One of those was a teapot, Mrs. Potts, played by Lynn Sharp-Spears. She executes the role with humor and warmth, and her rendition of the title song in the second act is performed tenderly. 

One of the characters in this group is Cogsworth (David James), the head of the castle and who was converted into a mantle clock. With his adroit comedic timing and delivery, multiple Helen Hayes Award winner Mr. James is an ongoing laugh machine.

Others in the talented cast include Babette, the enchanted feather duster (Patricia “Pep” Targette); the suave Lumiere, the maitre d’ of the castle and enchanted candelabra (Adam Grabeau); former opera diva Madame de la Grande Bouche; the enchanted wardrobe (MaryKate Brouillet); and young Chip (Elijah Doxtater who alternates with Julia Ballenger and Dylan Iwanczuk), the teacup and son of Mrs. Potts.  All perform brilliantly in their mostly comic roles as foils to the Beast.

Also, turning in a solid performance is the always reliable veteran Robert John Biedermann as Maurice, Belle’s inventor-father thought to be crazy by Gaston and the townsfolk.

Production numbers, such as “Gaston,” “Be Our Guest,” and “Human Again” involving the ensemble are extraordinary in their execution of Mr. Minnick’s choreography.  Precise throughout, these numbers are simply sensational especially when the enchanted objects have to navigate the floor with oversized, bulky costumes. As a nod to the times, waltzes are occasionally featured.

Rounding out the energetic, talented ensemble are Brandon Bedore, Carter Crosby, Lydia Gifford, Angelo Harrington II, Sarah Joyce, Nicky Kaider (see him as Frankie Valli in Toby’s upcoming Jersey Boys), Amanda Kaplan-Landstrom, Alexis Krey-Bedore and Anwar Thomas.

With the talent overflowing and the technical crew’s skill, Toby’s presentation of Beauty and the Best excels in all facets from direction to staging to performances.

This production proves why the musical has received such worldwide popularity. No matter our age, we can all enjoy a good fairy tale with a happy ending to brighten our lives.

Running time. Two hours and 40 minutes with an intermission.

Disney’s Beauty and the Beast runs through June 16, at Toby’s the Dinner Theatre of Columbia, 4900 Symphony Woods Rd., Columbia, MD 21044.  Tickets may be purchased by calling the box office at 410-730-8311or visiting here.

Photos: Jeri Tidwell Photography

The Menu for the fabulous buffet is shown here.

Drink Special: The Gray Stuff

The cast of Beauty and the Beast

Thursday, February 22, 2024

‘Peter Pan’ Lets Your Imagination Take Flight at the Hippodrome

Spoiler alert: Peter Pan is not a true story. In fact, it is one of the most make believe-fantasies to ever grace the stage. With its sparkling production, technical excellence and a talented, multi-cultural young cast, Baltimore’s Hippodrome Theatre is the venue for the national tour launch of this re-imagined and newly adapted musical version of the classic story.

I’m almost embarrassed to admit my first encounter with Peter Pan was, as a little kid, watching the fairy tale on my family’s black and white console TV (it was televised in color, however) back when there were only four known planets. My recollection of that experience besides the fun songs and exciting story was my confusion as to why the character Peter Pan was played by a woman, Mary Martin.

Ms. Martin also starred in the 1954 Broadway production and received a Tony Award for her performance as Peter. She was succeeded in revivals by Sandy Duncan and Cathy Rigby as well as other women on a number of tours. Alas, my parents were unable to offer clarity to a situation where gender roles had been so clearly defined back then and why Ms. Martin played Peter.

However, this dazzling touring production debuts a bright and talented young man Nolan Almeida, 17, as Peter Pan. He handles the physically demanding role with aplomb and tons of enthusiasm. The charismatic Mr. Almeida is an excellent vocalist, dances proficiently including tap dancing with gracefulness not ordinarily seen in a teenager and excels in the superb flying sequences with somersault flips.

The musical is based on J.M. Barrie’s 1904 play Peter Pan and his 1911 novelization of it, Peter and Wendy, whose main storyline depicts Peter Pan as a boy who never wants to grow up. The music is mostly by Moose Charlap, with additional music by Jule Styne, and most of the lyrics were written by Carolyn Leigh, with additional lyrics by the potent duo Betty Comden and Adolph Green.

The additional book was penned by Tony Award winning playwright Larissa FastHorse, who,
importantly, scrubbed the original material of the offensive stereotypical portrayal of Indigenous people and women. She is the first Native American female playwright whose work had been produced on Broadway. With her influence, several characters including Tiger Lily are played by Indigenous peoples in the production.

Still, under the direction of Emmy Award winner Lonny Price and choreography by Lorin Lotarro, Peter Pan stays true to the widely familiar story and pleasing music. Familiar favorites, such as “I Gotta Crow,” "Neverland,” “I’m Flying,” which is an incredibly striking and well-choreographed aerial number with sterling special effects, the iconic “I Won’t Grow Up,” the main theme of the story, “Hook’s Tango,” the moving “When I Went Home,” and the gentle “Tender Shepherd” highlight the musical. The excellent orchestra was conducted by Jonathan Marro for this reviewed performance.

For those not familiar, Peter Pan along with his mischievous fairy sidekick Tinker Bell enters the bedroom of Wendy, Michael and John Darling in search of his lost shadow. Wendy helps to sew it back on him, and the smaller boys awaken to the visitor’s presence. He tells of Neverland, an island where he is from and where there are “Lost Boys” who are in need of stories to hear and also in need of a mother.

Peter demonstrates his flying prowess and immediately teaches the children how to fly as long as they think lovely thoughts. A sprinkle of fairy dust dropped on them by Peter completes the task. With absolutely jaw-dropping technical effects, brilliant projections, imaginative lighting and theatre magic, Peter and the Darling children embark on an adventurous journey to Neverland. There they encounter a tribe of Indigenous people representing cultures from around the world led by Tiger Lily. The “Lost Boys” are there, of course, and there is also the evil Captain Hook and his pirate crew.

Amid sword fights, flying sequences, and clever maneuvering, Peter Pan and the Darling children, team up with Tiger Lily and her tribe to eventually vanquish Captain Hook.

Through these adventures, the Darling children are taught valuable lessons and appear to grow up. But Peter is loath to growing up. However, years down the road, Wendy’s young daughter Jane will join Peter in a trek back to Neverland.

As mentioned before, Nolan Almeida soars as Peter Pan, literally and figuratively. Perfectly cast for the role, Mr. Almeida showcases is abundance of talent in dancing, singing and acting. His vocals shine in such varied numbers as “I Gotta Crow,” “Neverland,” the sensational group number with the Darling children “I’m Flying” as well as “When I Went Home.” Unquestionably, Mr. Almeida has a bright future in theatre. His present isn’t so bad either.

Hawa Kamara is making her professional debut in playing the part of Wendy Darling. Her acting skills are excellent with her timing, use of facial expressions and body language. Mature and caring, Wendy is as likeable as one can be, and Ms. Kamara’s performance, especially her exchanges with Peter at the outset, brings that to the fore.

On the night this performance was reviewed, William Foon and Reed Epley were wonderful as John and Michael Darling, respectively. They, too, sing and dance well and can handle a sword when called upon.

The villain is Captain Hook, and that role is adeptly played by Cody Garcia. Evil and sadistic, Captain Hook can be seen as comical by adults but frightening by children. Cody (who also plays Mr. Darling) has that stereotypical pirate look of being tall, slender, mustachioed and swashbuckling.  Cody carries it off perfectly with the right amount of flair, and sings well in “Hook’s Tango,” “Hook’s Tarantella” and Hook’s Waltz.”

Captain Hook’s flamboyant devoted sidekick Smee, played deliciously by Kurt Perry, provides much of the comedy in the show with his campy rejoinders. Mr. Perry hits it out of the park.

As the generous but commanding Tiger Lily, Raye Zaragoza turns in a splendid performance. Her strong vocals are on display in the group number “Friends Forever,” which features glorious dancing from the entire Company including a fast-paced tap segment to close out the first act.

The remainder of the cast including the Pirates, Lost Boys and the Tribe all contribute to this fantastic production.

[a]"sparkling production, technical excellence and a talented, multi-cultural young cast..."

Anna Louizos’ brilliantly designed set adds much beauty to the production. The scenes at Neverland with its lush flora that serve as a hideout for the “Lost Boys” are gorgeous.

David Bengali’s projections are eye-popping and nothing short of spectacular. The “I’m Flying” number midway through the first act is breathtaking and is alone worth the price of admission. And a spotlight should shine on Paul Kieve for the creative “Tinker Bell” design, which is exceptional.

Amith Chandrashaker is on point with his rich and effective lighting design. Kai Harada should get applause not only for the quality of the sound but the impressive sound effects throughout the production.

The astonishing fight scenes are directed by Rick Sordelet and Christian Kelly-Sordelet with music and dance arrangements by David Dabbon.

And Sarafina Bush’s stunning costume design makes it a lot easier to imagine what went on in Neverland.

Peter Pan is a high-flying musical that melds a wealth of talent, a solid score and creativity. I, for one, never wanted to grow up and didn’t. This is a must-see show for all ages whether you have grown up or not.

Running time. Two hours and 15 minutes with an intermission.

Peter Pan runs through February 25 the Hippodrome Theatre at the France-Merrick Performing Arts Center, 12 N. Eutaw St, Baltimore, MD 21201.  For tickets, call Ticketmaster at 800-982-ARTS or visit ticketmaster.com or BaltimoreHippodrome.com.

Photos: Matthew Murphy

Wednesday, January 31, 2024

‘Mrs. Doubtfire’ is Sure-fire Hilarity at the Hippodrome

Rob McClure as Daniel Hillard/Mrs. Doubtfire

Right on the heels of a shockingly disappointing loss by the hometown football team, the Ravens, the North America touring production of Mrs. Doubtfire has rolled into Baltimore to bring some needed cheer while we lick our wounds. The musical now playing at the iconic Hippodrome Theatre is a heartwarming, tender story but with high octane comedy that is sure to keep you cracking up.

Four-time Tony Award winner Jerry Zaks adroitly directs this zany, well-staged musical with precision, which is based on the 1993 film Mrs. Doubtfire that starred Robin Williams. Lorin Latarro deftly handles the lively choreography, and Ethan Popp is the music supervisor.

The central plot consists of a divorced man with no custody of his children because he is unemployed and lives with his brother. He transforms into a female Scottish nanny named Mrs. Doubtfire in an effort to be close to his children. How he navigates this ruse is the core of the laugh-a-minute tale.

With some shows the plot is a vessel to carry the music, which is common among jukebox musicals, such as Mamma Mia!, Jagged Little Pill, Rock of Ages and many others. In Mrs. Doubtfire, the music by Karey and Wayne Kirkpatrick (the Tony Award nominated team behind Something Rotten!) is the vehicle to move the story along, and it’s well done. The book was penned by Karey Kirkpatrick and John O'Farrell.

The music in Mrs. Doubtfire will not likely appear on many folks’ playlists; however, the score with its eclectic styles and comedic lyrics perform a key function and service the story pleasingly. Some of the numbers are extraordinary with their lyrics and the manner in how they are performed.

“Easy Peasy” is a standout well-choreographed spectacle that brings laughter and joy with its zany antics. “Welcome to La Rosa” is another where everything in the plot unravels—literally. And that is followed up by the equally funny “He Lied to Me.”

Nik Alexander, Aaron Kaburick, Romelda Teron Benjamin
and Rob McClure

Rob McClure reprises his Tony-nominated Broadway role as Daniel Hillard, the out-of-work impressionist in San Francisco who loses custody of his three children after a messy divorce from his wife Miranda (played superbly by Maggie Lakis who happens to be Mr. McClure’s real wife). As stated previously, Daniel transforms into a Scottish nanny named Mrs. Doubtfire, who is hired by Miranda unaware of the true identity. This takes place after Daniel uses his voice impression skills, in a hilarious sequence, to sabotage Miranda’s efforts to find a regular nanny. Mrs. Doubtfire is anything but regular.

No one would expect an actor to replicate the comic genius of the late, great Robin Williams. But Mr. McClure comes darn close. In a tour-de-force, Mr. McClure is exceptional in a  physically demanding and strenuous role that includes well over a dozen costume changes in rapid fashion that must be accomplished on a dime to keep up with the fast pace of the show.

In possessing  natural comedic gifts, Mr. McClure scores big in every scene. Yet, his acting abilities come to the fore when he longs to be with his children and is desperate to do so. His ability to convey tenderness in these scenes while performing slapstick comedy in others is a tribute to his talent. Everybody roots for him.

"... a heartwarming, tender story but with high octane comedy that is sure to keep you cracking up."

Oh, by the way, he can sing well, too, as he is featured in over half the show's numbers. The moving solo “I Want to Be There” where Daniel fights for custody of his children in front of a judge is beautifully delivered. In another style, the comedic “Make Me a Woman” with his brother and his brother’s husband is beyond hilarious. Mr. McClure also excels while in the Mrs. Doubtfire character in the insanely funny “Easy Peasy”—a group number with the talented Ensemble where he desperately tries to brandish his cooking skills. There are many others. And yes, he can dance real well, even tap. What can’t he do?

For her part, Maggie Lakis as the strong-willed and business-savvy mother Miranda Hillard, performs well. Miranda clearly has no more interest in reconciling with Daniel and tries everything to keep him away from the children only to be infiltrated by Mrs. Doubtfire whom she adores especially because of the influence she has on her kids. Her one solo “Let Go” that showcases a powerful alto voice is glorious. In the end, after the jolting discovery that Mrs. Doubtfire was actually her husband, she comes to the realization that things are better when Daniel is around the children. It leads to an emotional conclusion. 

Giselle Gutierrez as Lydia Hillard, the oldest daughter and on the cusp of young adulthood, and for the reviewed performance Cody Braverman as her brother Christopher and Emerson Mae Chan as the youngest sister Natalie are bona fide scene stealers. Their acting skills are spot-on though Christopher performs most of the comedic lines and does so with aplomb. He alternates with Bernard Rimmele while Emerson alternates with Kennedy Pitney.

The three kids perform in the hilarious number “What the Hell”—yes they do, and Ms. Gutierrez shines in the emotional duet near show’s end with Mr. McClure in “Just Pretend.”

Now recall that the movie was released in 1993 and this musical production had made adjustments to modernize. The use of smart phones, internet and Siri are among the technical updates to the show’s plot.

What’s not updated is that the creative team retained the stereotypical gay characters for the musical. Indeed, sensibilities and attitudes have changed regarding LGBTQ+ individuals over the years.  One of the characters is Daniel’s flamboyant brother Frank (played by Aaron Kaburick) who is a make-up artist, no less and his even more flamboyant husband Andre (played by Nik Alexander).

Though their antics are over-the-top and at times cringe-worthy, they are fabulous and provide many comical moments during the course of the show. Advice: Don’t ever say anything negative about Donna Summer in front of Andre!

The couple assists Daniel with the prosthetics and wardrobe needed to pull off the Mrs. Doubtfire persona. And musically, the trio is outstanding in the funny “Make Me a Woman.”

Leo Roberts and Rob McClure
Also performing splendidly is Romelda Teron Benjamin as Wanda Sellner, the stern, all-business court liaison overseeing the progress made by Daniel to get a job, earn enough money and provide suitable housing for the children in advance of the court’s review of the custody ruling. In this process, the exchanges between her and Daniel, Frank and Andre are side-splitting funny. She also displays a powerful soprano. In the end, Daniel does find a job using his impression skills to land a TV kids show gig and manages to find a nice abode.

Leo Roberts plays Stuart Dunmore, Miranda’s brand-new love interest almost immediately following the divorce. Good-looking and muscular, Mr. Roberts portrays the rich British character well as he is the chief rival to Daniel. Whether by design or not, there is no chemistry between him and the children. Mr. Roberts also has a solid tenor singing voice.

The remainder of the talented cast and Ensemble supports the leads exceptionally particularly in vocals and dancing.

Though the set is not intricate or highly technical, it is attractive and services the plot effectively. Scenic Designer David Korins makes use of dropdown curtains and screens for scene changes with images of San Francisco in the background.  Costume Designer Catherine Zuber is very creative in outfitting the cast in colorful garb and, of course, the costumes for Mrs. Doubtfire. Phillip S. Rosenberg’s brilliant lighting design adds to the visual excellence of the show.

Truthfully, going in, I had my doubts about Mrs. Doubtfire and its conversion from screen to stage as a musical. No more doubts. It’s a perfect blend of love and laughs, and it’s fantastic.

Running time. Two hours and 30 minutes with an intermission.

Mrs. Doubtfire runs through February 4 the Hippodrome Theatre at the France-Merrick Performing Arts Center, 12 N. Eutaw St, Baltimore, MD 21201.  For tickets, call Ticketmaster at 800-982-ARTS or visit Ticketmaster or the Hippodrome Theatre online.

Photos: Joan Marcus

The 2024-2025 season recently announced:

Friday, January 26, 2024

5-6-7-8 'A Chorus Line' at Toby’s Will Surely Captivate

It may have been 1975 with the birth years of the dancers auditioning for a fictional Broadway musical ranging from 1942 to 1955, but the competition for such chosen roles by these show dancers is as fierce today as it was then.  An abundance of talented performers; needed jobs; few openings are available. That hasn’t changed over the years. 

Toby’s Dinner Theatre triumphs with its entertaining re-creation of the classic hit musical A Chorus Line, which humanizes these seemingly anonymous dancers. Each brings a story of struggle or dreams, of triumphs or failures, of family support or abandonment.

I was curious to see how Toby’s in-the-round configuration could adapt to a linear production, such as this. Under the imaginative direction of Helen Hayes Award winner Mark Minnick, who has been nominated for two more such awards for his work last year with Something Rotten! and Escape to Margaritaville along with choreographer Vincent Musgrave making his Toby’s choreography debut, the production team met the daunting challenge.

Rather than stringing the auditioning dancers in a single line across the stage as depicted in other productions, the performers are clustered at the stage’s three entrances as well as forming double lines across the stage. It’s very effective.

A Chorus Line features music by Marvin Hamlisch, lyrics by Edward Kleban, a book by James Kirkwood, Jr. and Nicholas Dante and originally choreographed by Michael Bennett.  In doing so, Mr. Minnick helms a tight production on a mostly bare stage that boasts a diverse array of talented dancers, singers and actors that perform some of the best-known songs on Broadway.

Paul played by Brian Dauglash

Songs, such as “I Hope I Get It;” “Hello Twelve, Hello Thirteen, Hello Love,” a brilliantly staged production number; “Dance: Ten, Looks: Three;” the gorgeous ballad “What I Did for Love;” and “One,” a singular sensation of a song, highlight the catalog. Honestly, you will have a hard time getting that song out of your head.

The eight-piece orchestra under the musical direction of conductor Ross Scott Rawlings (Nathan Scavilla conducts in other performances) provides sturdy melodic support for the singers and dancers. Lynn Joslin’s superb lighting design vividly amplifies the dramatic sequences with Mark Smedley’s sound design enabling the musical performances and dialogue to be clearly audible.

The original version of A Chorus Line ran for 6,137 performances and is the sixth longest-running Broadway show ever.  It spawned numerous touring productions and revivals, captured 12 Tony Award nominations and won 9 of them, in addition to the 1976 Pulitzer Prize for Drama. 

The musical is dance-heavy, and chorographer Musgrave and the performers are clearly up to the task. A variety of precisely arranged moves are deployed making excellent use of the stage. They include lifts and tap dancing among others, which are on display in solo and group numbers.

The quality of the music, dancing and dialogue (largely monologue) makes the show endearing and timeless and explains its enormous popularity.  Each of the 17 dancers is called upon to not only flaunt their moves individually and in groups in a strenuous audition but are also asked (um, told) to describe their life’s experiences to the authoritative director and choreographer, Zach (played commandingly by Jeffrey Shankle).

Mr. Shankle mostly sits above one of the theater’s balconies to simulate being in the rear of a theater’s auditorium. Zach’s assistant Larry, played well by Andrew Gordon, is a standout dancer when he joins in group numbers.

Never for once imagining they would be required to reveal their inner secrets, confessions and self-doubts to the director, much less to their fellow competitors, to vie for the limited number of openings (4 boys and 4 girls), the dancers opened their souls with remarkable candor.  I mean, how many performers attend an audition and admit they can’t sing?  One did here.

"Toby’s Dinner Theatre triumphs with its entertaining re-creation of the classic hit musical A Chorus Line..."

Talking straight ahead to Zach and responding to his questions bellowed from a microphone, these dancers tell their stories amidst a series of musical numbers including a montage.  Though some of the soliloquies slow the pace down in spots, they are mostly fun and unique and an integral part of the show. 

There are too many to name here, but these are some examples. Don, the married man who worked in a strip club (Brandon Bedore); Connie (Kiana King), a petite older Asian-American who still believes in eternal youth; Greg (Ariel Messeca), an impish Jewish gay man who describes his first experience with a woman; Sheila (Jessica Barraclough), a sassy, aging and sexy dancer who describes her unhappy childhood; and Mark (Angelo Harrington II), the youngest at age 20 who hilariously told his priest he thought he had gonorrhea when instead it was...

Paul (Brian Dauglash) presented one of the more emotional stories.  The Puerto Rican tells of his earlier experiences growing up gay and his involvement in a drag act. He was forced to drop out of school, and when his parents learned of his orientation, his relating their reaction was a particularly poignant part of the show.  Paul breaks down and Zach goes on stage to comfort him.  Mr. Daughlash is exceptional in sharing Paul’s experience.

Then there is Diana (Leela Dawson), also Puerto Rican who delivers the knockout number “Nothing” and later the classic “What I Did for Love.”  The latter follows a mishap to Paul, who injured a knee during a tap dance number, and the other dancers on the line experienced the sudden horror that their career could also end in a flash.  Few had alternative plans. 

Cassie played by Lydia Gifford

Cassie, one of the significant characters in the production, is played convincingly by Lydia Gifford.  She and director Zach once had a romantic relationship, and when Zach became more involved with theatre than with her, they split.  Zach believes that Cassie, who was once a successful solo dancer, is a feature-caliber performer, not merely a member of the chorus. But Cassie wants to be a part of the chorus and respects all those trying to make it.  

Ms. Gifford also elegantly performs a solo dance (“The Music and the Mirror”) as an angled mirror presents images of her dancing smoothly around the stage in a variety of moves donned in a sleek red dress.

Val, a fun character played by Alexis Krey Bedore, does a splendid job as a potty-mouthed dancer who needed plastic surgery to “enhance” her looks to get dancing jobs.  Her rendition of “Dance: 10; Looks: Three” is performed admirably.

The ensemble, in the meantime, learn the steps and lyrics to “One,” arguably the most iconic of the show’s numbers.  The final eight chosen dancers are announced, and those failing to make the cut exit the stage deflated. 

For the show’s finale all the dancers, including those cut, are decked out in glistening gold formal costumes (designed by Kansas City Costumes and coordinated by Janine Sunday) blending as a singular mass, absent individual identity, wonderfully performing the catchy reprise of “One.”   

Rounding out the talented cast are in alphabetical order: Dereck Atwater (Frank), Quadry Brown (Richie), Justin Calhoun (Butch), Aria Renee Curameng (Vicki), Emily Flack (Maggie), Nicky Kaider (Mike), Amanda Kaplan Landstrom (Kristine), Ryan Sellers (Al), Adam Shank (Roy), David Singletoen (Bobby), Patricia “Pep” Targete (Bebe), Danielle Tuomey (Trish), and Julia Williams (Judy).

Toby's production of A Chorus Line features a very diverse, attractive and talented bunch of dancers, singers and actors. They powerfully and gracefully glide and swerve in precise movements and none deserve to be cut.  But in the end, somebody has to go.  

Through this show, which was inspired by a number of stories from actual dancers, we’re taken back almost five decades. Indeed, some of the topics, such as homosexuality and breast implants were groundbreaking back in the day.  But truth be told, aside from the costumes, hairstyles, and cultural references of yore, it is all so contemporary and a must-see.

Advisory: The show contains adult themes and language and is not recommended for young children.

Running time. Two hours and 40 minutes with an intermission.

A Chorus Line runs through March 10, 2024, at Toby’s the Dinner Theatre of Columbia, 4900 Symphony Woods Rd., Columbia, MD 21044.  Tickets may be purchased by calling the box office at 410-730-8311or visiting online.

Photos: Jeri Tidwell Photography

Toby's Menu is shown here.

Drink Special: Singular Sensation

Wednesday, December 06, 2023

‘Moulin Rouge! The Musical’ est Splendide at the Hippodrome

When the doors to the auditorium open up at the historic Hippodrome Theatre in Baltimore for this production, you are transported to the Montmartre Quarter of Paris, France in 1899 and more specifically to the notorious Moulin Rouge cabaret club, the birthplace of the French can-can. In its opulent, vivid red splendor, the Moulin Rouge with its famous red windmill on the roof represents a bit of raunch and a bit of gaudy decadence with a French accent. Boundaries and restraint are words with no meaning here.

Naughty, racy, uninhibited, and sexiness are embodied in the twirling pastel petticoats of the high-kicking can-can dancers. This is the Moulin Rouge. It’s a place ‘where all your dreams come true.” And those dreams mean love in all its forms. From scenery that depicts large, three-dimensional, decorated heart-shaped Valentine’s Day candy boxes to scenery where “L’amour” is written across a screen, there is no doubt that love is the central theme. And at its core, this is a love story.

Behind a translucent curtain, as the audience files into this free-spirit environment, performers are seen moving about sensuously in slow motion, seducing one and all to a web of fantasy and no-limits. And when the curtain suddenly rises and the chorus opens the show with the vigorous “Lady Marmalade,” the seduction is complete.

Making a national tour stop in Baltimore that exceeds the length of the normal Hippodrome Broadway series run, Moulin Rouge! The Musical sets a high bar in theatrical creativity and pure beauty.

The show officially opened on Broadway July 25, 2019 and is still going strong. At the Covid-delayed 74th Tony Awards in September 2021, Moulin Rouge! The Musical garnered 10 Tony Awards including Best Musical from the 14 nominations. Other competitors included Jagged Little Pill and Tina—both eventual touring productions having played at the Hippodrome.

Moulin Rouge! The Musical with a book by John Logan is based on the 2001 film Moulin Rouge! This is a jukebox musical that deserves to be on the top shelf in that genre. Dozens of pop songs—some snippets and some fuller length depending on the rights bestowed upon the producers—are offered.

Just as the stage is a kaleidoscope of brilliant hues augmented by artistic scenery, imaginative lighting and over-the-top (in a good way) costuming, the music during this masterpiece is an eclectic brew of songs spanning decades and styles. Most are recognizable: from Madonna and Beyonce to Rick Astley and Whitney Houston, from Lady Gaga and Elton John to Tina Turner and Adele, the catalogue is limitless. Many of the songs had been added since the film version increasing texture to the emotions conveyed in the plot.

The musical is structured so that each main scene provides a track to move the story along, and each track contains a bunch of these songs. When the audience recognizes a number, even if it only a line or two, there is giggling throughout because of how the lyrics fit into the scene depicted. This offers a lighter touch to what is a more dramatic and serious storyline.

Set in the Montmartre Quarter of Paris, France, at the turn of the 20th century. The plot centers on Christian, a young American composer who moved to Paris to find himself and his capabilities. But before that could happen, he and his two Bohemian pals, the famous artist Toulouse-Lautrec and Argentinean dancer Santiago who are attempting to write music for a play, encounter Satine, the beautiful star of the Moulin Rouge cabaret club.

Despite its opulence on the surface, the Moulin Rouge is in financial trouble. Harold Zidler, the club’s director, believes that the only way to alleviate the pressure is to have the wealthy Duke of Monroth invest in the Moulin Rouge. And for that to happen, he implores Satine to provide the Duke the needed company to make him happy so that he may have a woman of his own.

Mistaking Christian for the Duke, Satine falls for the American instead, and he falls deeply for her, and the fateful triangle begins. Much of the ensuing drama occurs when the Duke with his dangerous past regarding women, fights to keep Satine for himself and tries to elevate her to his class of wealth. Who says, you can’t buy me love?

For her part, Satine, who is seriously ill from consumption (what was then tuberculosis), sacrifices her own happiness and love for Christian in order to save the Moulin Rouge and her friends’ jobs. All of this leads to an inevitably sad ending despite the jovial music and comedic moments throughout.

Tony Award and Golden Globe winning director Alex Timbers deftly keeps the show on point balancing the jubilant performances and atmospherics with the heart-tugging love story.

Veteran theatre and TV performer Robert Petkoff is superb as the caring and exuberant Harold Zidler. Drawing upon his cache of acting and comedic talents as well as a crystal clear commanding voice in both dialogue and song, Mr. Zidler handles the role with flair and the right amount of campiness.  

Substituting for Christian Douglas, the character Christian was played by Preston Taylor on the night this performance was reviewed.  He played the role tenderly and with convincing emotion. An outstanding vocalist, he appears in much of the music selections. Mr. Taylor's on-stage chemistry with Gabrielle McClinton as Satine is excellent, and everybody roots for the love-struck couple despite the odds.

"Moulin Rouge! The Musical sets a high bar in theatrical creativity and pure beauty."

Lovely Ms. McClinton excels as the talented Satine caught in a love triangle with no hopeful outcome given that Satine is slowly dying from an incurable disease.  She demonstrates beautiful vocals as evidenced with her duets with Mr. Taylor, which blend their voices perfectly.

As the wealthy Duke of Monroth, Andrew Brewer adeptly plays the villain role to the hilt. Showcasing a muscular voice in speaking and singing, Mr. Brewer is spot-on portraying the cruel and sneaky character.

Nick Rashad Burroughs as Toulouse-Lautrec and Danny Burgos as Santiago, the two Bohemian buddies and advisers of Christian, are effective in delivering comedic relief moments. Both sing and dance very well, and Mr. Burgos shines during the “Backstage Romance” track..

Rounding out the cast are Sarah Bowden as Nini, one of the dancers at the Moulin Rouge who had always been jealous of Satine; Nicci Claspell as Arabia and Harper Miles as La Choicolat who are other dancers at the club; Kamal Lado as Pierre and Max Heitmann as Baby Doll.

In addition, the Ensemble does and excellent job of portraying the other quirky characters and sing and dance with precision.

As good as the performances are, the technical team members are co-stars without exception. Brilliant scenic design by Derek McLane adds superb backdrops to the action using a variety of methods including drop-down scenery. These colorful sets are enhanced by the hue-rich lighting design by Justin Townsend. Catherine Zuber attired the cast in brilliantly colorful and lavish period costumes. Peter Hylenski’s sound design is flawless. Notably, all of these professionals received Tony Awards for their work in Moulin Rouge! The Musical.

An additional round of applause goes to the Musical Director Andrew Graham and the talented musicians in the orchestra.

Truth, beauty, freedom and love are the mantra of the Bohemians. In this production, you get some of each, but especially love. This splashy, well-performed spectacle is an experience that should not be missed.  

Be sure not to rush out of the theatre at curtain call, however, as the performers put on an electric, dance-dominated mini-show following their bows.

Oui, tout est permis au Moulin Rouge.

Running time. Two hours and 35 minutes with an intermission.

Moulin Rouge! The Musical runs through December 17 at the Hippodrome Theatre at the France-Merrick Performing Arts Center, 12 N. Eutaw St, Baltimore, MD 21201.  For tickets, call Ticketmaster at 800-982-ARTS or visit ticketmaster.com or BaltimoreHippodrome.com.

Photos: Matthew Murphy for MurphyMade


Wednesday, November 22, 2023

A ‘Miracle’ Returns to Toby’s with Holiday Cheer

Robert Biedermann 125 as Kris Kringle

When I think of miracles a couple of

 things immediately pop into my head. “Do you believe in miracles?” shouted sportscaster Al Michaels at the conclusion of the U.S men’s hockey team upsetting the heavily favored Soviet squad during the 1980 Winter Olympics. The other is Miracle on 34th Street, a sweet musical that is now ushering in the holiday season at Toby’s Dinner Theatre of Columbia.

During these tense times, it is a delight to escape to the warm, comfortable in-the-round theatre venue known as Toby’s and to enjoy not only a luscious buffet but also to spend a couple of hours experiencing a miracle. In bringing back Miracle on 34th Street for the third time in ten years, Toby’s is offering as a dose of holiday cheer comfort food for the palette and comfort food for the eyes and ears.

Most of the energetic and talented cast members are reprising their original roles (except for the children), not to mention the fact that Director Shawn Kettering and Choreographer Mark Minnick as well as some of the proficient technical crew also return. Therefore, they should all be well-rehearsed, and clearly they are.

Miracle on 34th Street—not the black and white classic Christmas movie from 1947 presented every December on television but a live musical adaptation—plays neatly on Toby’s in-the-round stage.  The book, music and lyrics were penned by Meredith Willson of The Music Man and The Unsinkable Molly Brown fame, debuted on Broadway in 1963 under the title Here’s Love.

No one will compare the melodies in Miracle on 34th Street with the rich score in The Music Man or come close to the hefty scores of many other successful Broadway musicals. Indeed, few of the numbers in this one are memorable, save for the popular 1951 tune “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas.”  Moreover, the first act contains a few slow moments and some quirky songs like “Plastic Alligator.” Fortunately, the drama, tempo and pacing pick up noticeably in the second act with the courtroom scene being most enjoyable.

The strength of Miracle on 34th Street and the reason people should buy tickets the sooner the better rests with its endearing storyline and the outstanding performances. Every role is perfectly cast, and that lends to the sheen of the production.

"...Toby’s is offering as a dose of holiday cheer comfort food for the palette and comfort food for the eyes and ears."

The work of the creative team excels under the deft guidance of Mr. Kettering, the imaginative choreography of Helen Hayes Award winner Mark Minnick, and the musical direction of Ross Scott Rawlings with Nathan Scavilla conducting the six-piece orchestra on the reviewed performance. 

Set in New York City before and after Thanksgiving in the late 1940s, the story focuses on a white-bearded, avuncular man named Kris Kringle (played convincingly by Robert Biedermann 125) who claims to be the real Santa Claus.  He brings about a genuine “Miracle on 34th Street,” spreading good cheer and good will among men throughout New York City. He encourages camaraderie between the arch-rival department stores Macy’s and Gimbel’s, and persuades a divorced, cynical single mother, Doris Walker (Heather Marie Beck), her daughter Susan Walker (played on the night the show was reviewed by young Hazel Vogel who alternates with Audrey Wolff) that Santa Claus is no myth.

Skeptics saw otherwise, and poor Kris Kringle had to appear before a stern Judge (superbly played by David Bosley-Reynolds) at a hearing in New York State Supreme Court to determine if he should be committed to the Bellevue Hospital, known for housing mentally ill patients.

As these events unfold, Doris finds her neighbor Fred Gaily (Jeffrey Shankle), an ex-Marine and inexperienced lawyer, who develops a father-daughter bond with Susan, falls for Doris and eventually represents Kris Kringle at the hearing, leading to a lovely conclusion.

Holiday atmospherics are in place. Scenic Designer David A. Hopkins constructed the set, which features a few streetlamps on the stage, the entrance to an apartment on a balcony, Christmas trees, garland, Christmas lights and views of the New York City apartment buildings and other images displayed on panels surrounding the walls of the theater. 

However, what makes the visuals even more appealing is the seemingly limitless number of set pieces and props employed throughout the show, which add texture to the scenery. The sleigh on wheels that Santa occupies, for example, is gorgeous, and it wouldn’t be a Christmas show without a little snow.  Lynn Joslin’s effective lighting design is critical to the myriad seamless scene changes. 

Mark Smedley’s sound design helped the performers effectively ring in the holiday season.

Sarah King designed the authentic 1940’s suits and dresses as well as Santa outfits and other novelty garb, such as clowns and police uniforms, thereby lending a realistic feel to this enchanting production.

The cast of Miracle on 34th Street

Mr. Minnick’s detailed choreography is most effective especially when there is a large group on the stage as in such numbers as “Plastic Alligator,” “That Man Over There” and “My State, My Kansas,” whereby he makes full use of the limited space by devising innovative dance steps, plenty of motion and ensuring the dancers are in sync rhythmically.

Jeffrey Shankle, as he often does, delivers a sparkling, near-flawless performance.  In tuneful voice, he sings “My Wish,” with Hazel and is simply stellar in his solo “Look, Little Girl.” The title and lyrics are cringe-worthy, but the show was set in the 1940’s after all.

Coming off an eight-months run in the national tour of Les Misérables, Hazel Vogel as Susan shines. Never missing a line, never missing a cue, never missing a note or a step, Hazel demonstrates can't-miss potential in musical theatre.

Jordan B. Stocksdale plays R.H. Macy, the strict owner of the department store bearing his name. Commanding on stage and with his strong baritone, Mr. Stocksdale stands out in “That Man Over There”—a highlight number during the courtroom scene, which in itself, is a highlight in the show. 

As Doris, Heather Marie Beck is well cast and delivers a solid performance.  The part requires proficient acting skills, and Ms. Beck delivers on that front particularly in her confrontations with the characters Susan and Fred.  She showcases her sturdy vocals in such numbers as “You Don’t Know” and “Love, Come Take Me Again” and the warm duet with Hazel, “Arm in Arm.”

Veteran performer Robert John Biedermann 125 plays Kris Kringle well.  He adroitly conveys the sweetness and kindness that all children believe Santa to be. His performance of "Here's Love" is touching. Everybody roots for him.

David Bosley-Reynolds hits the mark as Judge Martin Group particularly in that fun courtroom scene and the Governor, delivering well-timed comedic lines.

Another notable cast member is the always entertaining David James as Marvin Shellhammer whose facial expressions and comedic rejoinders are in the “don’t-miss” category.

Shane Lowry as Mr. Sawyer also exhibits comedic skills, and Justin Calhoun is especially strong as the prosecutor Thomas Mara. 

A number of the other performers are called on to play one or more roles as well as being part of the ensemble and do so splendidly. They include: Valerie Adams Rigsbee, Patrick Gover, AJ Whittenberger, Ryan Sellers, MaryKate Brouillet, Brooke Bloomquist, Lydia Gifford, Gwyneth Porter (alternates with Julia Bellinger), Jordyn Polk (alternates with AJ Bassett), Dylan Iwanczuk (alternates with Ezra Tornquist), Amanda Kaplan Landstrom, and Julia Ballenger (alternates with Skyler Smelkinson).

Excellent performances plus a delightful feel-good story (and a scrumptious buffet) make this a seasonal must-see, which will be enjoyed by the young and the young at heart.  To answer Al Michaels’ “Do you believe in miracles?’—the answer is Yes!

Running time. Two hours and 30 minutes with an intermission.

Miracle on 34th Street runs through January 7, 2024, at Toby’s the Dinner Theatre of Columbia, 4900 Symphony Woods Rd., Columbia, MD 21044.  Tickets may be purchased by calling the box office at 410-730-8311or visiting online.

Photos: Jeri Tidwell Photography

The Menu is shown here.

Drink Special: The Kringle

Wednesday, October 25, 2023

Classic ‘Funny Girl’ Triumphs at the Hippodrome

Katerina McCrimmon as Fanny Brice and
Stephen Mark Lukas as Nick Arnstein

Ah, it’s so refreshing to enjoy good old-time theatre. And with the classic Funny Girl, whose revival is touring the U.S., we are fortunate to have a splendid production making a visit at Baltimore Hippodrome’s Theatre.

Under the direction of Michael Mayer, the outstanding performances, fantastic scenery, rich period costumes, brilliant illumination and wonderful music offer an old-time theatrical feel and charm representing the 1920’s but with a modern glow.

Funny Girl is a loose biographical portrayal of dynamic entertainer Fanny Brice in the nascent days of musical theatre during the early 20th century. It chronicles her start in show business and how she defied the estimation from family and friends that she is not sufficiently beautiful to appear on stage.

But feisty Fanny, from Henry Street in New York’s lower east side, would have none of that. She knew she has the talent—singing, comedy, dancing—and through sheer determination, ambition and a little help from her eventual husband, professional gambler Nick Arnstein, she ultimately became a star in the famous Ziegfeld Follies.

Fanny’s marriage with Arnstein, which produced a daughter, had its ups and downs like many marriages. But their careers, especially his frequent “business” trips and ensuing legal troubles, kept getting in the way and sadly could not endure the challenges that they faced despite their professed love for one another.

The first act frenetically describes how Fanny overcame the doubters and began her rise to stardom.
The second act, somewhat slower and sadder, examines the complexities of her marriage to Arnstein and how it affected her own values and the marriage’s impact on her mother, friends and associates.

Funny Girl whose score was by Jule Styne, lyrics by Bob Merrill, and book by Isobel Lennart opened on Broadway in 1964 and launched the career of superstar Barbra Streisand in the title role. The show received eight Tony nominations for that year but had the misfortune of going up against musical juggernaut Hello, Dolly! and didn’t take home a statue. Nonetheless, Funny Girl appealed to audiences all over and a film version was introduced in 1968 with Streisand as the lead with Omar Sharif.

Nearly six decades later, the show was revived in 2022, and Harvey Fierstein (Kinky Boots, Newsies) modified the book for the Broadway revival.

"...an old-time theatrical feel and charm representing the 1920’s but with a modern glow."

Styne’s score is solid with two songs that are indisputable classics: “People” whereby Fanny Brice expresses her loneliness and desire to live a normal life and “Don’t Rain on My Parade,” an inspiring anthem to independence.

Both of these numbers as well as a host of others are performed by an emerging charismatic star, Katerina McCrimmon, who is commanding in the lead role. One should never compare anyone to a superstar like Streisand. It just cannot and should not be done. Streisand’s simply untouchable.

However, Ms. McCrimmon’s zesty performance, her immaculate vocals and endearing personality conjures up unavoidable memories of Streisand. Diminutive in stature, I can only marvel how Ms. McCrimmon’s voice can hold up during the 140-minute show. Not only is she involved in most of the musical numbers with many of them strenuous, but her dialogue also requires a good deal of shouting or “hollering” as Fanny’s mother (Eileen T’Kaye substituting for popular singer-songwriter Melissa Manchester on the night this show was reviewed) puts it.

Perhaps there was a bit too much shouting as her voice becomes shrill at times. But Fanny Brice was known to have a booming voice. She was Ethel Merman before there ever was an Ethel Merman, so it was realistic.

Ms. McCrimmon’s mezzo-soprano vocals are pure and powerful. Aside from the two iconic songs mentioned previously, she shines in “Who Are You Now?”and “I’m the Greatest Star” among other solos as well as in duets with Stephen Mark Lukas who plays Nick Arnstein, such as “I Want To Be Seen With You”.

Besides her vocal prowess, Ms. McCrimmon’s comedic dialogue and quips bring much joy to the production. Her acting skills are on full display whereby she has those funny moments but can also be convincingly tender during her exchanges with Arnstein. I have no doubt you will hear more about the ultra-talented Katerina McCrimmon in the weeks, months and years ahead.

Hello gorgeous! As Nick Arnstein, Stephen Mark Lukas convincingly plays the role of the suave, sophisticated gambler and schemer. Possessing a muscular baritone voice that matches his muscular pecs, which he flashes all too briefly early in the second act, he shines in duets with Ms. McCrimmon in “I Want To Be Seen With You” and “You Are Woman, I Am Man”.  Mr. Lukas also sings proficiently in the ballad “You’re a Funny Girl.”

It was a pity to have missed Melissa Manchester for this performance, but her stand-in, Eileen T’Kaye as Mrs. Brice is fantastic. Quick-witted, strong and supportive, Fanny’s mother is a hoot. Their exchanges are priceless and perfectly timed, and both actors appear to relish their roles with their onstage chemistry being very strong. Ms. T’Kaye sings well in a group number “If a Girl Isn’t Pretty” and in a duet with Ms. McCrimmon in the reprise of “I’m The Greatest Star” and with Izaiah Montaque Harris who plays Fanny’s good friend Eddie Ryan in “Who Taught Hr Everything She Knows?”.

I’m told that Ms. Manchester will be appearing in subsequent performances.

As the aforementioned singer-dancer Eddie, Mr. Harris excels as the supportive and loyal friend of Fanny. However, his tap-dancing skills are of show-stopping quality. He puts those formidable moves on display at various points in the show and are breathtaking under the tap choreography of Ayodele Casel.

Other notable performers include Walter Coppage as the authoritative, no-nonsense Florenz Ziegfeld; Christine Bunuan as Mrs. Strakosh who is Mrs. Brice’s pushy and comedic friend; Hannah Shankman as Mrs. Meeker; and David Foley, Jr. as the gruff producer Tom Keeney. The remainder of the talented cast and ensemble ably support the lead performers through vocals and dancing.

Scenic Designer David Zinn created an excellent set for the production. The use of varied lighting combinations (designed by Kevin Adams for the proscenium stage) amplifies the visuals. Scenes change flawlessly and efficiently behind a drop-down curtain that include the backstage at the New Amsterdam Theatre in New York to an elegant restaurant in Baltimore to an apartment among other locales.  The staging is well-coordinated and smooth.

Period costumes designed by Susan Hilferty are colorful and eye-catching and add authenticity to the musical’s timeframe.

The sound designed by Brian Ronan and Cody Spencer is well balanced, and the orchestra led by Elaine Davidson ably brings the wonderful score to life.

All the elements come together beautifully in this triumphant production. There will be laughter and there will be tears, and you will witness the emergence of a budding star in this classic in which tickets remain available.

To paraphrase the song, people who will get to see Funny Girl are the luckiest people in the world.

Running time. Two hours and 40 minutes with an intermission.

Funny Girl runs through October 29 at the Hippodrome Theatre at the France-Merrick Performing Arts Center, 12 N. Eutaw St, Baltimore, MD 21201.  For tickets, call Ticketmaster at 800-982-ARTS or visit ticketmaster.com or BaltimoreHippodrome.com.

Photos: Matthew Murphy for MurphyMade